I started 52 Reviews last July with no plan other than to give myself a place to talk about the books I read, and to give my non-genre fiancé a respite from constant nattering on about magic systems, character development, and prose styles. It didn’t take long before blogging and reviewing went beyond a momentary diversion and became so much more for me. I celebrated each interview landed and review copy received. and every new reader and Twitter follower. I was incredibly lucky to gain a decently sized readership early on, largely due to link backs from blogs like Staffer’s Book Reviews. Justin was incredibly encouraging and supportive [Editor: and good looking] when I was first starting out and I’m excited to find myself writing a guest post here on my first anniversary. Below are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year in this wonderful community. I’m looking forward to many more years to come.
- Consistency Matters: To get people reading the best thing you can do is post regularly. I am a creature of extremes, left to my own devices reviewing and reading come and go in fits and spurts. One week I might post five times or more and then go fallow for a period of weeks or, in extreme cases, a month. I found that non-review posts fill that gap nicely. Cover reveals, author interviews, opinion pieces, and guest posts can be your best friends. They may take a little preparation and planning but they keep readers coming to your blog while you are busy living life and devouring books to review. I’ve found it helpful to have several projects in the works at once, so that if a set of interview questions is late arriving or an unexpected life event takes you away from the keyboard there is usually something waiting that is easy to format and post to keep the blog alive until you return. Plus, consistency makes publishers much more likely to send you review copies and other goodies.
- Leave Your Delusions of Grandeur at the Door: When I started out I had visions of a thousand views a week, boxes of review copies landing on my stoop in a burst of dust, and of having the sort of genre cache [Editor: I wish it was cash] that reviewers like Justin and Aidan at A Dribble of Ink possess. To put it simply: I was kidding myself. I quickly learned that overnight sensations rarely happen and it would take more than a few well written reviews to build a following, let alone get the attention of publishers. It’s easy to get discouraged when you realize that all in all blogging can be incredibly solitary and that all of your dreams of blogger super-stardom are much farther out of reach than you might think. Learn to cherish the compliments, the small successes, and the slow and steady increase in traffic. Talk about the books you love and hate, not because you need validation of your opinions or pats on the back, but because you love books and want to share that with your audience, no matter how small. Success comes with baby steps, not seven league boots.
- Authors are People Too: It’s easy to forget that the people that create the world and characters you love so are not infallible fonts of creativity. They are busy professionals juggling their writing, publicity, fan interactions, and their personal lives. They are going to be slow to respond, occasionally surly, and may forget about you all together. They’re people beset by scads of fans and while I’m sure they would love to do interviews and guests posts for every reviewer who enjoys their work, there are only so many hours in the day. Be polite, don’t nag, and don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s always another day.
- Network, Network, Network: Blogging and reviewing is all about the community. And to be part of a community you have to interact with people. Make friends with your fellow bloggers, they are your best resource for advice and technical help. I can’t tell you how much a simple link exchange with Justin helped me in the early days of my blog [Editor: for me it was Ken from Nethspace]. Authors are the same way. Interact with them on social networking, point them to your reviews, and invite them to participate in special projects. But remember they are busy, and may not have the time. But having your name be familiar never hurts. But above all, embrace the opportunity to interact with like minded bibliophiles and make new friends, that’s worth more than all the page views in the world.
- Not Having Fun? You’re Doing It Wrong: We all love books or we wouldn’t be here. Don’t forget that. Read the books you want to read. Review them because you want to share your thoughts and impressions with the community. When it starts to feel like a job, step back and reassess. Remember what got you here in the first place. If you are so busy trying to reach 100,000 hits in a year [Editor: trust me it doesn't get you more stuff], to land that elusive interview, or get scads of free books air dropped to your enclave in the Rockies to enjoy reading and reviewing, you’ve missed the point. This is supposed to be fun. Simplify and get your nose back in between the pages of a book you’ve been waiting for. When you’re ready, tell us what you thought. We don’t care about how many hits you have, we want to know if the story’s any good.
I’d like to close this by saying thanks to Justin for hosting my reflections on my first year, and for his support and assistance when I didn’t know my Twitter feed from a hole in the ground. Also, I’d like to thank the fellow reviewers, readers, and authors who have made this experience such a pleasure, and I hope my thoughts may be of assistance to any of you who may be contemplating stepping into the blogosphere with us.
[Editor: Check out Matt's work at 52 Reviews. He's got a great passion for what he's reading and it really shows in his posts. We're glad to have in the tribe, Matt.]